Could this be the start of a new trend in cycling? If you were social media savvy and enormously hungry to make a name for yourself, you could plug a new idea and flog it to death until…….until, that is, you get to a point where people recognise the message and begin to think it is not such a bad idea after all……and from there it rolls on.
The Flash-Dash will be no media ‘rage’……especially since it climbs on the back of the much more media savvy Alastair Humphreys, long distance cyclist, adventurer and author, who launched the idea of the ‘micro-adventure’ a few years back. He very neatly sowed the seeds of the idea of leaving your place of work on a mid-week evening and riding your bike to the top of the nearest mountain, to the shores of the nearest lake, to the depths of the nearest wood, or simply to a place that is far from anywhere, and camping down for the night, whether with a bivvy, hammock or tent. Dine under the stars (if they are shining), listen to the wild life throughout the night, wake up with the dawn and (perhaps) the rising sun, have breakfast on whatever you are carrying, then cycle back to your place of work, having experienced something very different and invigorating. For sure, you won’t be discussing the latest shenanigans on Coronation Street or East Enders.
My concept of the Flash-Dash is very similar, but more extended and (perhaps) more spontaneous……and some would say a complete ‘cheat’. What? You sleep in a bed for the night, and you always go with a tailwind behind you, and…… and……you can almost guarantee good weather for the duration? You’ve got to be kidding….
It all sounds impossible, but read on. Cycle Magazine, the national publication of Cycling UK (with a membership of over 60,000) squeezed my little offering in amongst the Traveller’s Tales at the end.
Monday becomes ‘Twosday’…
Good to go off-road….and the track around Grafham Water is incomparable…forgetting, of course, the swarms of mosquitos by the water side. Being a Bank Holiday Monday, there were myriad bikers out enjoying this late spring holiday: from the kitted-out, camel-backed enthusiasts to the more senior rider with electric-assist machines, from the carefree ‘sit-up-and-beg’ riders to families with trailer bikes and child carriers….they were all there, and they all had smiles on there faces, except when they were struggling up one of the many little hills.
We passed a couple who had stopped to rest, and she looked at us on the tandem and the expression on her face seemed to say: “I’d like one of those, then he could do all the work….”.
We can access the track from a bridleway just 5km from our home, so no need to load the tandem into the car, and the round trip puts 25km onto the clock….so worth getting kitted up for it. And with a couple of cafés on the circuit, there’s no need to go off-piste in search of refreshments, and with Grafham Cycling also located on the route, any mechanical issues can be resolved during the ride.
A breeze of a ride down to Willington to eat cake with the boys ‘n girls……..😊 And don’t be taken in by the 0.04km headline box of the Relive animation…..it was actually 62km..
Cycling and sociability.
When we talk about cycling being a sociable activity, we are usually referring to the camaraderie shared on the road with a bunch of other like-minded roadies, and the banter and teasing that goes on at the coffee stops. But what if you are a lone cyclist? By that I don’t mean the hapless ‘billy-no-mates’, the guy whom no-one will cycle with, but just someone who chooses to be on their own, for whatever reason.
When I am on one of my long trekking rides in a far-distant land, I find riding on my own is a much more ‘sociable’ experience. But what do I mean by that? Simple really….if you cycle with a partner or a group, you are much more likely to spend your time almost exclusively with them. It is, after all, the dynamics of that kind of setting. However, if you are on your own, you find yourself engaging much more with the local people in passing, and they are much more likely to want to engage with you, to the extent that they may offer you a meal or even a bed for the night. This has happened to me countless times.
More locally, in your own home environment, riding a bike through nearby towns and villages, you feel much less intrusive if you decide to call on a friend without announcing your arrival. It is so easy to roll up to a friend’s house, spend 15-20 minutes with them, sometimes sharing a coffee, and catching up with the latest news. To do that when you are passing in a car is quite different, both for you and the friend. Stopping for a casual unannounced visit feels much more intrusive in those circumstances…….and people seldom do it. As a result, there are some 12-15 friends who live away from my village that I see more often, albeit for short snatches, by riding the bike. And when a friend complains that they haven’t seen me for a while, then I know that my occasional visit is appreciated.
Fighting the wind……not, not of the gastric variety, but what the elements unleashed this morning. But it was great tea and cake at The Stove in Bourn, with the ‘illustrious’ company of the Silver Slugs…….
Ah, the summer has arrived here in the UK……which just goes to prove my stupidity. Just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, so neither do a few sunny days…..But I decided to risk all, including my own credibility, and take out my Litespeed titanium, and announce to the world “The summer is here”!
A smaller lighter frame, with enough twitchiness to keep my attention for the duration of the first ride….but it’s also quicker and more invigorating. Not really the sort of bike for relaxing into a long ride, but one to make the long ride just a little shorter……which may mean an earlier lunch some days…😁
Good to be back on the road….regenerated by a couple of weeks of alternative activities on the southern beaches of Spain: walking, yoga and swimming, it was good to feel renewed energy on the bike, and the (perhaps deceptive) lightness of the forward propulsion of pedalling.
But it was just my luck to have to stop mid-ride to help a young lady cyclist (this doesn’t often happen, believe me) who had fallen off her bike. Only a few days into learning to ride a bike, she had fallen on the grass verge and, unshaken by the experience, she had picked herself up, dusted herself off, but her bike needed a few adjustments before being able to re-mount. I raised the saddle a few inches for her, but she was nervous she wouldn’t be able to easily touch the ground with her feet. I straightened her handlebars and checked a few of the mechanicals to make sure they would work for her. A mile down the road, I stopped and looked back, and I could see her getting up to speed, so left her to it.
Most of us learn to ride a bike as children, but some don’t. As children, we are so used to the rough and tumble of childhood that falling off a bike is hardly novel or much more painful than any other fall. But learning as an adult is a different story. Having broken my femur on one occasion falling off my bike, I came to understand (somewhat painfully and late in life) that we no longer ‘bounce’ as we did as children. And that is the fear that deters many adult learners, just as it deterred my wife, Jenny……..but then she married someone who explored alternatives, like a tandem. For any non-bike rider who would dearly love to ride a bike, riding stoker on the back of a tandem is an (almost) perfect solution…….as it is for people who are sight-impaired, or have some other disability that keeps them from riding a bike.
If you know of anyone who is in this situation and would dearly love to ride stoker on the back of a tandem, then check out Charlotte’s Tandems, a charity that organises the loan of tandems to people with disabilities. They do a great job and have a network of volunteers around the country who can supply a tandem free of charge.
On the hottest April day since 1949, I hit the ‘hills’ of Northamptonshire with a group that meets up every Thursday in different locations. The idea is to gather at a coffee stop, the organiser gives out the route sheets and takes bookings for lunch, then everyone takes to the road in self-selected groups to meet at the pub for lunch, and from there everyone makes their own way home.
I always ride out to the café, do the ride in between, then ride home again, usually logging up between 80-100km, so it can occupy most of the day. This particular group has been meeting for 40-50 years, and some of the originals are still there, not riding the miles as they used to, but still active. And each one is a ‘cycling encyclopaedia’ of bicycle wisdom, anecdotal stories of their achievements and near-misses, and often masters of the art of bicycle-fettling. I always enjoy their company.
Just like straddling the equator, straddling the Greenwich Meridian should be just as momentous, but I wonder how many thousands of people going in and out of Cambridge on a daily basis from/to the west realise (or simply remember) that, geographically, they are moving from one time zone to another?
Let’s face it, even though this line of longitude became the official worldwide 0 degree point as far back as 1884, so that all time zones around the globe could be determined, there are many countries in the world that have ignored it, and have simply opted into the ‘time-zone next door’ for their own convenience.
This came to my attention many years ago after visiting Galicia (NW Spain) and Sicily in the month of February. Although officially in the same time zone (central European time), they were so far apart (east to west) that there was a clear 100 minutes of difference between their respective sunrises and sunsets, and if you look at the map of time zones, you will see that Spain should, geographically speaking, be in the Greenwich meantime zone.
However, you can imagine my disappointment at discovering that the actual line, verified thousands of times by modern GPS systems, is actually 334 feet to the east (c102 metres) which, at the speed of a Usain Bolt, is all of 10 seconds away.
Disappointingly, we have been living a lie all this time…….
Discovering a new piece of software that can bring your day’s ride to life helps you to relive the experience in a different way. And for those who haven’t yet discovered the joys of propelling themselves through the countryside on a pair of wheels, this kind of animation of a route may possibly kindle an interest.
As you will see from the photo embedded in the video, the weather did not inspire, but once on the bike, with the leg muscles warming up, the sheer momentum of the experience can make the weather irrelevant…….unless, of course, it is ‘tanking it down’……which it was the other day. But then the worst that can happen to you is…..you get wet…….and so what?
Most of my riding may be solo these days, given that I live out ‘in the sticks’, but I invariably join up with other roadies at some ‘watering hole’ to chew over the fat, and to indulge in that favourite pastime of most roadies……coffee and cake.
One of the groups I tie in with is made up mostly of the ‘retired-and-idle’, who have nothing better to do with their spare time than to ride bikes and eat cake. I mean that in
jest of course, but it’s not too far from the truth. Today’s ride took me to a small Northamptonshire village called Earls Barton, a community with a rich Anglo Saxon heritage (pre-600 AD), in later years famous for its leather trade, and most recently a protagonist in the film Kinky Boots, which was based on the Northamptonshire shoe trade.
Our watering hole today was a very nice café in the local marina, nestling beside the moorings of river boats and narrow boats, and it was warm enough in the sunshine to sit outside on the veranda. Although I have been
retired for nearly ten years, I was clearly the ‘junior’ member of this group, the eldest well into his 80s. And this is the message of hope, perhaps…….that riding a bike regularly, doing some decent weekly mileage (which all of these people clearly do), keeps you fit and active……and it is remarkable how little the aches and pains of old age creep into the chat and banter over the table. If any discomfort and pain is ever mentioned it is usually about the damn headwind on the way out, or the hill that had them grinding in their lowest gear…….or occasionally about some inconsiderate driver who nearly cut them up. Otherwise, we are usually engaged in relating anecdotes of cycling times past, or discussing something technical about the bikes, or mocking the latest generation of sportive riders who ‘have all the gear and no idea’…….and would be better off riding a cheaper bike and losing several kilos of body fat.
All said and done, we have a laugh.
Then I came across this green plaque in Woolaston and learned something new about the town……
Re: Cyclists by Michael Hutchinson
Michael Hutchinson, a former pro-cyclist-turned-journalist, writes an excellent weekly column in The Comic………more accurately known as Cycling Weekly. His style is to combine well-informed commentary on aspects of the world of cycling, mixed with wry humour and critical insights into whatever is current or in fashion. I know some faithful followers of the magazine turn immediately to his column when they open their current edition.
Re: Cyclists, 200 years on two wheels is his take on (basically) the entire history of cycling, from the ‘draisine’ (hobby horse) invented by Baron von Drais in Germany in 1816 to what we know to today, the bicycle in all its configurations. No matter how sophisticated bicycles become, from the technical metal compounds that go into the frames, to the growing subtlety of the accessories that go on the frames, the design of the bicycle has not fundamentally changed over the years. Two hundred years on we are still taking advantage of that leap of imagination that went into building the early machines, and that will probably never change.
His perambulations take him through the history of Cycling Weekly, a magazine that began simply as Cycling in 1891, bang in the era of the penny farthing (perhaps the most dangerous of the velocipedes to ride), through its brief and disastrous flirt with mopeds, when it was renamed in 1957 as Cycling and Mopeds, to its current incarnation, inspired largely by the world of racing.
Although he dedicates the last chapter to the future of cycling (as most similar tomes do) he is challenged to predict any fundamental changes ahead, given that we have already come through 200 years of history and development without any real departures from the original designs.
A good book and worth reading.
If cycling on a bright sunny spring morning does nothing else, it will most certainly bring us in closer contact with the beauty of the world around us, but sometimes that beauty is adulterated by human beings. No, I am not talking about farmers, road menders, wayside factory units or inconsiderate drivers, I am referring to the feckless individuals who are intent on ‘spoiling the party’ by dumping their household waste on country roadside verges.
Not only do they thoughtlessly dump it willy-nilly in remote spots, but they also make their unwelcome presence felt by spreading their rubbish in several places, thus making it harder for anyone to clear up. So, what do they gain, and what could they potentially lose if they are identified?
Given that most of this waste could easily be disposed of through normal domestic collection, they gain absolutely nothing. But they do stand to lose on at least two counts: if they are identified (and household waste can throw up a lot of clues) they stand to be stung for a £400 fine, but more importantly, if they are members of a local community, they may have to face the opprobrium of those who live around them.
This very same stretch of road (I have decided) also sees the frequent passage of a committed coca cola drinker. How do I know? I see many discarded cans by the road side, but along this stretch there were no fewer than some 20 coke cans……the same colour red, the same company insignia…..is it not time to impose an environmental tax on these companies.
Rant over…. today’s ride was otherwise glorious, mixed as it was with paying a visit to two old friends en route.
Good to feel the warmth of the sun piercing the multiple layers of insulation……is this the real beginning of spring? The countryside has that air about it, pendant catkins and developing sticky buds tell their story, even the bird life is being lulled into a frantic bout of nest building.
Where does the truth lie?
The lowest county summit
I don’t live in the flattest part of England, because that accolade is probably richly deserved by Lincolnshire, but the now non-existent county where I do live (old Huntingdonshire) does proudly boast the lowest historic county summit in the country….which is of particular interest if you are an inveterate ‘hill-bagger’….yes, there is a league of hill-baggers out there who go bagging all the highest points of historic counties, no matter how low they are.
Imagine going from bagging Scafell Pike (978 metres/3208 ft) to the summit of old Huntingdonshire (81metres/266 ft)…..not exactly in the same league, I would say, but features on the same list of baggable points.
Now, I tell you all this simply because my route today took me dangerously close to bagging my first highest summit on a bike…..and astonishingly it is listed in the baggers’ almanac with the never-to-be-forgotten name of ‘Boring Field’, just outside the village of Covington.
However, and this is a big ‘however’…….there is a hotly contested issue as to the summit’s exact whereabouts. Could it really be on a bridge over the now defunct Huntingdon-Kettering railway track? In other words, do engineering structures really count as part of the landscape?
Don’t write to me….write to your local MP…..
Drowning the candle…..
It was, of course, a delight to climb on the tandem, pedal in sync for a few miles, enjoy the cool February sunshine, and to punctuate our ride with a fine lunch at a local country pub.
Jenny, very kindly, poured me a glass of water, releasing the slice of lemon for my sole benefit, and as I put the glass to my lips I peered into the depths of the glass and, beneath the slice of lemon, lurked a tea-light candle……😁 She had decanted my water into the candle holder……..!
Well, we made ‘light’ of it, it didn’t ‘douse’ our enthusiasm for the meal, but it put paid to a candlelit experience…….
Don’t be impressed…..now bike less, I picked up a colectivo taxi which, because it is shared with other disparate passengers, is not so expensive. With some guidance from a mapping app on my phone, the driver found the casa where I had started my journey 2 weeks before, which would be a last ditch attempt to meet up with Bob, an American cycling buddy whom I had met in New Zealand 6 years ago. We had already made an abortive attempt a couple of years ago to go cycling together in Cuba, but it never happened, and I went off to Florida instead for 2 weeks.
When I met Bob for the first time, he and his 10 year old daughter, Anna, were riding a Hase Pino tandem ( with a semi-recumbent front rider) and his wife Christine was on a solo. They had courageously taken a year out to cycle the world together as a family, and we met on a campsite of South Island. We stuck together for the next few days, climbing a few hills together, finally saying goodbye in Queenstown. I knew then that was not going to be the last I would see of them.
It was so good to be in his company again, very much a case of like minds coming together again. We seized the moment, sharing a good 10 hours of stories, anecdotes and shared memories, before Bob headed back to Lake Tahoe in California. We hadn’t met on the road because our travel schedules hadn’t quite matched, and independent travellers don’t like hanging around, but we kept in touch on the road, and pinned ourselves down to this get-together.
It was the perfect conclusion to an eventful couple of weeks.
Heading to the city of ‘a hundred fires’, I had decided to make this the last day of cycling in Cuba, and hand over my faithful old steed to Sergio…..except that Sergio lived in Sta Clara, about 100km away.
But he was so excited about the gift, he said he would borrow a camión and come and fetch it. A more deserving recipient I could not have found. When I first met him, there was an immediate meeting of minds….we found ourselves on the same wave length from the first moments, we shared a lot of conversations over a wide range of subjects….in short, we were very comfortable in each other’s company.
Staying at the casa of a friend of theirs here in Cienfuegos, he was able to find me quickly this morning, and we went out to a peso eating place (where only Cubans generally eat, at state subsidised prices) and had a couple of beers and a pizza. He was trying to thank me for the bike, but this 30 year old wonder was needing a new home, so I explained some of its peculiarities: it’s quick-release wheels and saddle, how the 21 gears worked, the Girvin flex stem…..all of this is old technology to us, but not to the average Cuban.
He had left his truck on the outskirts of the city, so he had to take courage and climb on the bike in front of me……and great to say I didn’t detect even the slightest wobble.
When I told him the history of the bike, the countries that it has visited and the number of kms ridden (probably 80-100,00kms), he adopted an immediate reverence towards it. I asked him if he might plan any trips, and he told me he likes to go lake fishing at weekends, so will already be doing regular 30km trips.
I waved him off knowing that ours will be a lasting friendship that will go beyond the bike. And his gift to me is that I now have one bike fewer to store and maintain……and I know it’s going to a good home……